Movie review: Go watch Chambaili

Spoiler Alert!

Just when I was ready to give up on the Pakistani entertainment industry for constantly insulting its audience’s intelligence by producing sub-par content under the justification of “log yehi dekhna chahtay hain” comes Chambaili. It entertains and educates with equal ease.

With Ehteshamuddin, Shahzad Nawaz and Ali Tahir in lead roles, Chambaili is a political thriller that has its finger firmly on the pulse of the public. Set in a Pakistan-like country called Mulk-e-Khudadad (Country given by God), the film revolves around an average urban middle-class family which is torn between staying in and helping things improve in their country or simply giving in and moving out.

They unwittingly end up embroiled in a land dispute in Yaadgaar Colony, a heritage area where a company owned by an influential politician’s son Sultan (Humayun Naz) wants to build Taj Mahal Hotel.  The property that is the bone of contention is the ancestral home of Sarmad (Ali Tahir), who lives in Toronto and has come to Falakabad to attend the engagement of his sister Kiran (Maira Khan). The company, called Shaadbaad Developers, has harassed other neighbors into selling off their homes and Sarmad’s home is the only one standing in their way.

Following the family’s refusal to vacate the house in favor of Shaadbaad Developers, Sultan’s thugs forcibly enter the house, breaking furniture and creating a general ruckus in order to pressurize the family into giving in to their demand. Sarmad decides to let go of the house, but his idealistic poet-journalist friend Musa (Ehteshamuddin), semi-idealist friend Saif (Shahzad Nawaz) and courageous sister Kiran refuse to give in and decide to protest the political party’s pressure tactics.

Thus begins the story of how a small protest and hunger strike by a handful of people outside the Falakabad Press Club spirals into a counter political movement against dynastic politics that fails miserably at representing the people who have supposedly voted in these politicians.

While Chambaili will undoubtedly remind you of Rakeysh Mehra’s Aamir Khan-starrer Rang De Basanti (2006), it certainly manages to hold its own. The music, done by veteran Najam Sheraz, is pretty good and camera-work by Kamran Khan is superb. For a film that touches upon such a vast number of issues, Chambaili is very well-paced and all the issues weave in coherently to form a strong plot. Ehteshamuddin is undoubtedly the star of the show, with his brilliant rendition of some really fantastic lines. The unexpected heroes of the film are Mehreen Syed and Humayun Naz, while Maira Khan has probably also given the best performance of her career so far.

The film is also very pluralistic, with the main analogy being Prophet Moses and Pharoah and one of the main characters being Shia. In the end, the new president specifically addresses all Pakistanis, who are shown praying in a church, a gurudwara as well as a Hindu temple. Secondly, on the wall where Maira’s character has put up framed pictures of all the revolutionaries of the world, Gandhi’s photograph is prominently displayed.

Although the film isn’t without its weaknesses, they aren’t so big that they can’t be overlooked. The second half is a little weaker than the first half, because the focus moves on to actors who are admittedly not the strongest. There are two big questions that I was left with at the end of the film. First, who was the politician, played quite well by Salmaan Peerzada? Was he a chief minister, a governor, the prime minister, who?! Second, how does the Chambaili Party candidate become head of state, when they are only shown campaigning in one city (Falakabad)?

Overall, Chambaili is a great, great film that successful transmits a very strong message without being preachy. The film manages to be patriotic without being jingoistic, urging the viewers to do nothing more than exercise a civic duty: vote. And I, for one, am sure that a majority of the audience left the theatre teary-eyed but more keen than ever to do just that.

Verdict: Chambaili is a must, must watch. Take one, take all!!


Entertainment media and tunnel vision

Which is the worst show airing on Pakistani television right now? Main Gunahgaar Nahin.

I have finally found the answer to that question. Believe me it was not easy because of the wide array of choices to pick from. It seems as if most TV shows are competing with each other not for the award for “Best TV show” but for “Worst TV show”.

MGN revolves around a young girl who was happily engaged to a spineless young man, as ubiquitous on television as in real life, until one fateful night robbers come to loot her parents’ house and, in the process, rape her. Her engagement breaks off, with her to-be mother-in-law taking the lead and her “obedient” son following in tow.

Of course, every terrible thing that can happen then happens to the girl and she cries and weeps her way through the next five episodes. Her brother tries to support her but his wife does not (obviously) because really when in the world have bhabis ever been supportive of nands?

No points for guessing what happens next. Our “heroine” is then married off by her family to a man who is a rich, spoilt brat. The makers drive that point home through an asinine scene where the girl is shown sitting on a praying mat when her newly-wed husband walks in drunk. Our heroine obviously decides to resign to her husband’s failings and begins to mould herself into her unhappy new life.

Meanwhile, “justice” is served to the person she was supposed to marry originally. The woman he ends up marrying is in an extra-marital relationship and leaves him high and dry, wanting to return to our heroine.

Just when I thought there was no cliché left to be introduced into this already third-rate plot, the writer goes beyond my expectation. In triumphant poetic justice, robbers (not the same as the earlier ones, thankfully) then come to the house of her brother and threaten to assault his wife if he does not empty his coffers for them. This episode hasn’t aired yet, but I am fairly certain that this should bring about a change of heart in the bhabi for her wronged nand and we will be treated to yet another cliché happy ending.

I do not blame the show for depicting exactly how rape survivors are treated in our society. I understand that one of the purposes of media is to entertain while informing people of what actually happens in a society. But it is important to understand that entertainment media can also be a very powerful tool towards defining social norms. If that were not the case, there wouldn’t be such a furor over television shows perceived as “threatening” to our social fabric.

But here’s what I blame the makers for: having tunnel vision. Why is there only one future course of action that any woman can take in life, following a rape, a divorce or the death of her parents? Why can there be no other outcome of such an event? Why can’t a woman be an agent instead of a subject of destiny?

All I am urging makers to do is to try to find newer plots, even if they are based on the usual girl-meets-boy-falls-in-love type trite plot. Yes, things happen in society a certain way and it is okay to depict them as such but things can happen a certain other way too, and I assure you it will be just as entertaining to show that. Last time I checked, people do like watching plays that show lives that they aspire to have.

I present to you the example of Fatima Gul, a Turkish play currently playing on Urdu One that includes many cliche ideas but still manages to be a much more thorough and enjoyable a plot than the sickeningly boring MGN. The heroine, Fatima Gul, is a rape survivor just like the protagonist from MGN. Her fiance also ditches her and her bhabi is a pain in the neck. She is also forced to marry – in this case, the plot is even more offensive as she is married off to her alleged rapist!! At least MGN wins on that count.

But here’s where the difference lies: in Fatima Gul, the protagonist – a girl who has never been to school as opposed to the MGN protagonist who is said to have a college degree – decides to rebuild her life and sets up a restaurant. She does end up making something of her life, instead of constantly wailing and crying over her ‘fate’. As the show is progressing, Fatima Gul is continuing to fight her alleged rapists in court and is shown to be becoming a symbol of defiance in Turkish society.

Why don’t our writers create stories like that? Why couldn’t the protagonist from MGN stand her ground against a forced marriage, use her college degree to get a decent job and eventually make herself a good life? Why couldn’t she be shown as someone who decides to teach at a girls’ school, encouraging young women to be strong people who take charge of their lives?

Yes, writers like to work with the truth but as far as I can tell, Fatima Gul is based on just as much truth as MGN is. Rape is a reality everywhere in the world and women, let alone rape survivors, are treated unkindly everywhere in the world. Then why can mainstream television series from elsewhere show a protagonist’s life taking a different, more happy path than ours?

Media is but a product of society. The reason we do not see women fighting back on TV and are bombarded with half-baked plots with weeping heroines is because we do not see women like those as models that other women should aspire to. Taking rape as an example, the reason our protagonist is such a doormat is because a woman like Mukhtaran Mai who fought her rapists tooth and nail is not considered a role model for other young women to follow.

There needs to be a balance between entertainment and socially-responsive programming. Currently, a brilliant television series by the name of Rihaai is being telecast on Hum TV. Funded by Kashf Foundation, the play explores the very pertinent and shameful issue of child brides, and is being watched very widely. I hope that it acts as a catalyst of change, encouraging other producers, directors and writers to at least try to come up with newer plots that support modern thought.

Eventually, this bubble will burst and the crying leading ladies will have to go. The smarter television whiz can spot this business opportunity now.  The only question is, are those smart television wizards willing to take the risk?

Movie review: Keep your eyes away from this one

Perhaps the most apt thing about Chashme Baddoor is its name – not because it does justice to the original but because it uses the words “bad” and “door”. It is so bad, it may be best to stay door from it.

Chashme Baddoor, directed by David Dhawan of the hilarious No.1 film series fame, is unremarkable at best. It is astonishing that a film with people like Rishi Kapoor and Anupam Kher can be such a tedious experience.

The only good part about the film is perhaps the threesome formed by Ali Zafar as Siddharth, Siddharth as Jai and Divyendu Sharma as Omi. The plot, even though borrowed from the 1981 classic of the same name, is quite weak, leaving a number of unanswered questions. You will never be able to tell, for instance, how the three guys manage to get by and how Sid pays for college without anyone ever going to work or even mentioning having a profession.

Sid, Jai and Omi are three best friends and apartment-mates in Goa. Sid is still a student in college, studying Physics or Chemistry or something like that, while Jai harbors dreams of becoming a film actor/producer and Omi wants to be a poet. In actuality, Jai and Omi are good-for-nothing troublemakers who can think of nothing but girls.

Enter Seema (Taapsee Pannu, an actor from the South Indian film industry) who has run away from her home where her father, an army man (Kher), insists that she will marry an army man. She has come to live with her vivacious grandmother and uncle (also Kher), who encourage and support her in her adventure to finding the man of her dreams. Both Jai and Omi try to hit on her unsuccessfully but when Sid and Seema fall in love, they first try to break the couple apart for quite an asinine reason and then try to bring them back together.

Zafar looks every bit the goodie-two-shoes his part required of him. Although the music score is pretty average, he has also done a good job on the singing front too. However, I think that Zafar is a lot more talented than this and is capable of producing much better work. Siddharth is quite impressive in this role, which shows his versatility given that the last commercial Bollywood film he did was Rang De Basanti in which he played a very, very serious role. Divyendu is very cute as the politically incorrect poet and a dimwit. Between Siddharth and Divyendu, there are some truly funny moments such as the one where they go buy a gift for Seema on behalf of Sid.

Verdict: You wouldn’t really miss out on much if you decide to pass Chashme Baddoor. The funny lines are really too far and few between and Dhawan’s comedy, always crass, is particularly lame in this one.